I am happy to see that my friend Peggy Noonan has graduated from being the star-struck cheerleader of Obama to joining the ranks of the disillusioned. Back in the summer of 2008, when much of the country was swooning over The One We’ve Been Waiting for For (remember that?), Peggy was enthusiastically outlining the case for Barack Hussein Obama in the Wall Street Journal:
He has within him the possibility to change the direction and tone of American foreign policy, which need changing; his rise will serve as a practical rebuke to the past five years, which need rebuking; his victory would provide a fresh start in a nation in which a fresh start would come as a national relief. He climbed steep stairs, born off the continent with no father to guide, a dreamy, abandoning mother, mixed race, no connections. He rose with guts and gifts. He is steady, calm, and, in terms of the execution of his political ascent, still the primary and almost only area in which his executive abilities can be discerned, he shows good judgment in terms of whom to hire and consult, what steps to take and moves to make. We witnessed from him this year something unique in American politics: He took down a political machine without raising his voice.
Embarrassing, what? But 18 months after that “fresh start” things are looking pretty rancid, even to Peggy. “He was,” she complained in her WSJ column a few days ago “supposed to be competent.”
In fact, some of us have been wondering about Obama’s competence since before the election. That was part of the reason your humble correspondent, among others, worried about his total lack of executive experience. Sarah Palin had run the largest state in the union. Barack Obama had run . . . his campaign.
I believe that Obama is unique in the annals of American history. It’s not any individual quality — if “quality” is the right word: perhaps “attribute” would be better — that sets him apart. It’s the combination of attributes. What are those attributes?
Peggy Noonan touched on one: enormous, all-encompassing, stupefying incompetence. The man can pose. He can preen. He cannot, judging by his performance these last eighteen months, govern. His handling, which is to say his ostentatious mishandling of the BP oil spill, is only the latest evidence that he is wildly out of his depth. That episode is shaping up to be the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history. What has Obama done to address it? What would he do were we confronted with another sort of existential calamity? How would he react?
But incompetence is only one aspect of Obama’s make up. There are two other attributes along with an under-appreciated, or at least under-commented on, character flaw that we must ponder in order to take the full measure of this post-modern American politician.
The other two attributes are 1) arrogance and 2) ideological animus.